How I Became a Famous Novelist is a tidy, and very funny, example of simultaneous multi-layer cake having/eating. Bitter Pete Tarslaw decides the best way to get back at his ex-girlfriend is to write a chart-topping novel. He inventories the best seller list, discards genre fiction as requiring too much actual work, and decides to write one of those “literary” bestsellers — a treacly tearjerker ripe for transformation into an Oscar-bait flick. The sort of book you find under the the Christmas tree and unwrap with a sense of mounting dread, disappointment, and a sense of weary obligation. Tarslaw takes the David Allen Coe “perfect country song”* approach, cobbles together something called The Tornado Ashes Club, and jumps on the rags/riches ride.
What’s really impressive is that How I Became a Famous Novelist itself clearly follows a best-seller template, although pitched to a snarkier, more cynical audience segment and (thankfully) without The Tornado Ashes Club‘s overwrought prose.
Including multiple pages of deliberately bad parody prose and pulling the-joke-is-that-it’s-not-a-joke are risky moves. What makes it work for me is that Hely, bless him, fully commits to his satire: he insults the three most significant audiences for his book: the editors and publishers who decided to buy it, journalists who discuss it, and ordinary people who read it. (A fourth audience, people who make film option decisions, gets a virtual pass, which would seem suspicious if I could envision How I Became a Famous Novelist filmed as anything other than a shoestring-budget indie quirkfest.) Tarslaw’s a bit of a skeeze, but he’s aware of his skeeziness and possibly trending toward future reduced skeeziness, which I thought kept him adequately sympathetic. And when Hely’s authorial point of view shines through Tarslaw’s voice, it just might, y’know, tug at your heartstrings, because, like all good satire, How I Became a Famous Novelist has a hot, angry core.
* You know, “I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison.”
needs more demons? no.